The opening of Resident Evil: Retribution has everything backwards. No, literally, for the opening title sequence, writer-director Paul W.S. Anderson presents the events in reverse and in slow motion and in glorious 3D. It is a bizarrely beautiful sequence to watch, reducing the narrative to a series of inventive and evocative images. Then, after a brief recap of the first four films, the scene is shown again, this time in forward motion and at full speed. Somehow, it isn’t nearly as interesting or visceral as it was in reverse. This is pretty indicative of the rest of the film, which plays loose with the narrative, playing mind games with Alice, each and every other character, and the audience. The film is full of action filled set pieces and over the top Resident Evil zombie gruesome effects. But it lacks any story what so ever; instead, it is more like the source material than any previous installment, playing out like a filmed live-action video game. Still, there’s plenty of mind numbing fun to be had, Milla Jovovich still looks captivating and sensational as Alice, and the effects are imaginative and inventive. For what it is, for what it sets out to be, Resident Evil: Retribution is near brilliant; as movie, however, it stumbles without a true narrative lacking any character, or story, or advancement at all.
For those who have been following the series, Resident Evil: Retribution picks up immediately after the ending of Resident Evil: Afterlife left off in 2010 with Alice, Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield, K-Mart (yup, that’s the character’s name) and a gaggle of “survivors” on the deck of Arcadia facing an oncoming fleet of Umbrella helicopters. But, all this matters little. When Alice (Milla Jovovich) is knocked unconscious, she awakens safe and sound in an American suburban home with Oded Fehr returning as her husband and young Aryana Engineer appearing as her daughter. Before she can figure anything out, Alice and her new family are attached by a horde of zombies much like the opening of Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake. When this scenario plays out its course, Alice awakens once again, this time in a containment center in an Umbrella facility hidden deep underground being interrogated by her one time friend, Jill Valentine (Sienna Guillory). From here on out, Resident Evil: Retribution is an escape film where Alice must break out of Umbrella and return to the surface to save the world. The plot digresses to a formulaic video game contrivance of moving from one set piece to another, level to level, complete with hidden weapons, recurring allies, maps and zombies of every type. The film completely rests on the shoulders of its lead character Alice.
By now, Milla Jovovich has the character of Alice down and still looks as amazing as she ever has. She is an unparalleled action star in the hands of her husband, director Paul W.S. Anderson. She is cool, confident and sexy. However, its basically the same character as in all the previous films – very little has changed. In fact, the continual rebooting and playful tone to the narrative instantly dissolves and disseminates any attempt she tries at giving the character any depth. She is provided a bit of a spin ato her character in the script as Alice grows an attachment to the young child, Becky, who is her child in the Suburbia sequence and reappears later. She puts on her best Sigourney Weaver as the plot begins to mirror Aliens even more so than the Suburbia scenes ape Dawn of the Dead. It serves the story and progression of plot but carries too little weight to build the character of Alice, especially as she so callously watches each of her other friends perish one by one. But isn’t that really what a Resident Evil film is about? No, it’s the action and Jovovich delivers. She looks amazing with her wire-fu antics, crazy gun slinging and gravity defying leaps. In this department, she’s at the top of her game.
Milla isn’t the only heroine (or villainess) in Resident Evil: Retribution. She is joined by Li Bingbing (as Ada Wong) and returning cast members Sienna Guillory (as Jill Valentine) and Michelle Rodriguez (as Rain Ocampo). Li Bingbing is a fantastic Kato to Milla’s Green Hornet. Their fight against two giant Axemen zombies in a simulated New York City is a highlight of the film. The film works hard to best a similar scene in the last installment where Ali Larter stood by Alice’s side. However, here, Li brings a quiet intelligence to her role; she may be the only character that displays any resemblance of something going on inside their noggin. Michelle Rodriguez returns as two different cloned versions of Rain last seen in the first Resident Evil. She plays both good and evil sides of the character and gets some of the choicer lines and character moments bordering on clever. In one scene she’s a wimpy suburbanite; in the next, she is a hardened bad-ass that takes on the entire surviving cast in the climatic battle. Everyone fairs better than Sienna Guillory as a cyber-controlled pawn of the Umbrella Corporation. Her delivery is laughably bad and nearly impossible to endure. Even when she is standing completely still firing a pair of pistols, she is terrible. She never has the presence the character needs to be utilized by The Red Queen as head of security, nor is she convincing as one who could lead an army of Storm Trooper wannabes. It is so comical that it threatens the entire film, reducing much of it to cartoon like quality. Thankfully, her final battle with Alice is extraordinarily well choreographed and filmed, providing the character and the actress some redemption.
The guys fair about the same, in addition to Oded Fehr returning in what amounts to an extended cameo, Boris Kdojoe returns as Luther West, a lame attempt at a love interest for Alice. He brings the film its sole emotional core with his expression of affection for the lead character. He may be the only supporting character that has an ounce of motivation aside from taking orders. He plays off the other more militant characters and Alice, providing the film a much needed sense of humor. Johann Urb and Kevin Durand appear alonside Boris as Alice’s rescuers. Urb plays familiar Resident Evil game character Leon S. Kennedy and Durand portrays Barry Burton. Urb serves little more than to be the film’s Han Solo. Durand, however, gets to have a lot of fun playing a rare heroic role in his career of bad guys. He’s more the Malcolm Reynolds role.
As usual, most of the film’s budget can easily be seen in the specular special effects. From zombies to enormous monsters called “lickers” to Axmen to explosions, Resident Evil: Retribution lets loose with visual eye candy and breathtaking stunts. From the opening sets on the Arcadia to the simulated sets of New York, Tokyo and Moscow to the brilliant shot of hundreds of underwater Nazi zombies closing in on their drowning victim, the film looks amazing and that’s why many go to a Resident Evil film. In this respect, the film delivers 100%. Truly stunning. The film occasionally feels like its retreading old ground, Anderson revisits many established Resident Evil signature effects shots – even the x-ray shots of bones breaking during battle. It may be the first film where effects shots are given the level of cameos as recurring characters and actors.
Resident Evil: Retribution is the second film of the series to be in 3D, both directed by Paul W. S. Anderson. He has a real flair for the medium, providing vast landscapes, broad depth of field shots and many zings of object flying into the audience. He handles all the cues with a sure, balanced hand – balanced being the key word. The opening scene is worth the added price alone where the slow motion reverse shots are fascinating and exhilarating. The various cityscapes benefit from the added dimension as well, showing both the depth of the city itself and the boundaries of the simulation enclosures surrounding them. The signature tentacle-mouthed zombies are displayed in all their 3D glory as are the lickers and the Axemen. The 3D is highlighted in the opening helicopter assault and the underwater scenes. And, it doesn’t hurt to have Milla Jovovich in 3D either. The 3D may be film’s greatest redeeming value.
Resident Evil: Retribution is shallow and brain dead. It lacks emotion, conflict and meaning. It has no purpose. What it is is pure adrenaline, action and mayhem. And, it is damn fun. Great action, inventive set pieces, and plenty of video game gore, the film delivers a good time if nothing else. If judged simply on what it intends to deliver, the film is a home run; however, it so lacks a constructive narrative and any character development that is fails as a film. It may be one of the best examples of a video game translated to film, the characters act and behave as if they are in a video game and they run through a plot that would as easily have driven the next installment of the Resident Evil game. But it excels at the combat, the gun play, the explosions and the mutated zombies. Ultimately forgettable, Resident Evil: Retribution serves only to set up the next film and kill a couple of hours in the process.